Politics and Art

Art-Less, a special “no immigrant” exhibit, starts today at The Davis Museum at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. All work that was created by or donated by immigrants will not be displayed until the President’s Day weekend. Curators have removed paintings and shrouded cases with black cloth. The initiative highlights immigrants’ impact on the world of art.

Woman SpringsImmigrants to the United States created about one-fifth of the work in the Davis Museum‘s permanent galleries. Their collection includes work by Swedish portraitist Adolf Ulrik Wertmuller who emigrated to the United States in 1794, Willem de Kooning who came here from the Netherlands in 1926, Italian sound sculptor Harry Bertoia who moved to Detroit in 1930, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who moved to Chicago to become the director of the New Bauhaus in 1937, and more.

“We have removed or cloaked these works to demonstrate symbolically what the Davis Museum would look like without their contributions to our collections and to Wellesley College, and to thereby honor their many invaluable gifts,” the museum told CNN.

Of course, that art was created by people who entered the country legally — Walter Paepcke, the Chairman of the Container Corporation of America, invited Mr. Moholy-Nagy, for example — so Wellesley’s political statement is at best mixed.


Two-Faced Lying Liars

The 24-7 “Muslim Ban” reportage should remind us of the first rule of Journalism:

Tell the truth, then quit.

The Mainstream Media lies, but maybe not for the reason we think.

The yellow press of the 19th Century set a pretty low bar for truth culminating when Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal battled to drive up circulation.

Yellow Journalism presents “little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, sensationalism” and outright falsehoods. We us the term today “as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.”

Today, there’s talk that the low bar is set for political reasons.

Journalism transformed itself from making stuff up and muckraking to the investigative reporting of the mid-century. American reporters have discovered and reported on individual and corporate and government wrongdoing, secret practices, corruption, and witch hunts.

The iconic news organizations had a golden age. Murrey Marder exposed Sen. Joe McCarthy. Edward R. Murrow, the most distinguished figure in broadcast journalism, simply gathered news completely and then broadcast it. Walter Cronkite assumed the mantle of investigative journalism as a watchdog who delivered the facts as a CBS anchor. Woodward and Bernstein may be the last of the modern era “complete, factual” investigative reporters.

Reading the NewsNews writing and journalism transformed again in the 60s and 70s. The so-called “new journalism“ driven by writers including Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson moved the bar to the long-form narrative that uses novel-like scenes in stories instead of straight reportage of facts.

That’s where we come in today.

“Political reporters” in particular want to tell a story rather than tell a fact. That story is often not true. Let’s look at some examples.

Mark Hertsgaard wrote that press coverage of the Reagan Administration was “extraordinarily positive.” The media “abdicated its responsibility” to report accurately what the government was doing. Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee himself said the media had been “kinder” to President Reagan than to any other President in his time at the Post. Prominent journalists and news organizations, Mr. Hertsgaard wrote, “allowed themselves to be used” by the President’s political operatives. The media told at least some of the truth but the stories excused it.

The Teflon™ didn’t stick (heh) around for George H. W. Bush. From the reports about the grocery store scanner to Bill Moyer’s insistence that the first Iraq war was based on lies, the media abdicated again but this time chose to report inaccurately what the government was doing. The media told at least some of the truth and the stories blamed the president.

“Read my lips. No new taxes,” may be the most famous line that sank a presidency.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman” may be the most famous line that didn’t.

The press narrative covered Bill Clinton’s lies and none-the-less forgave him. They played by the Clinton rules. The media told at least some of the truth but the stories excused it.

The Internet — Facebook, Twitter, Bloomberg, Google and YouTube, WikiLeaks, blogs, thousands of digital news and information sites — has pushed the media icons even farther away from the truth.

The botched 60 Minutes piece on George W. Bush’s National Guard service defined the tone for press coverage. It was, purely and simply, a lie. “The story we reported has never been denied by George W. Bush, by anyone in his close circles, including his family,” Dan Rather continues to say. In fact, Bush spokesmen have repeatedly denied it. In the other Bush narrative, the MSM to this day claims Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. The truth? Iraq certainly had chemical weapons but the MSM denial lives on. The media told at least some of the truth but the stories pilloried the president.

NBC News correspondent Lisa Myers found this statement in the 2010 Obamacare regulations: “A reasonable range for the percentage of individual policies that would terminate is forty percent to sixty-seven percent.” Did you know that? From lies about health care to lies about the deficit to lies about tax cuts to lies about terrorism, to lies about scandals, Mr. Obama’s lies are legion but excused or buried by the mainstream media. The media told at least some of the truth but the stories excused it.

This weekend, a protest lawyer told ABC News “the immigration ban is unconstitutional.” The network treated that as fact. When a lawyer said the same about ObamaCare, the network immediately cut to “experts” explaining why the program was indeed constitutional. The media tells at least some of the truth but the stories blame the president.

Since the press chooses some Republicans and some Democrats for praise and different Republicans and other Democrats for excoriation, I can’t simply point to “liberal bias” or even “conservative bias.” Liberal papers like the New York Times were nice to Mr. Reagan. Conservative papers like the Wall Street Journal were (relatively) nice to Mr. Clinton.

I love news and data but I am ashamed of what I see happening in this most important bulwark of democracy.

I have long thought the media was star-struck by Mr. Reagan but hated Mr. Bush 41’s class. Since Democrats love to play the race card, perhaps the press excused Mr. Obama because they were afraid of racial accusations. Perhaps they simply hate Mr. Trump.

A lot is our own fault dear reader.

Facebook, Twitter, Bloomberg, Google and YouTube, WikiLeaks, blogs, and thousands of digital news and information sites means We the People read less real journalism today than ever before. And sadly, that means the “real journalism” we do read or watch tells us more lies by commission or omission than ever, just to try to get our attention.

We pay attention. And we believe the stories.

Can you hear the shades of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst chortling?



Chuck Todd asked Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) on Meet the Press if he plans to forge a relationship with Mr. Trump. The congressional icon said Mr. Trump makes that difficult. “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”

I don’t see Rep. John Lewis as a legitimate voting rights icon.

Don’t get me wrong. Rep. Lewis was as good a guy as any politician gets. Oh, sure, he’s traded on race and civil rights leadership all of his life but we’ve come to accept that from our pols. More than the Nashville sit-ins, more than SNCC, even more than the Freedom rides, Mr. Lewis has associated himself with the Voting Rights Act.

Rep. John Lewis wants to delegitimize 46% of the American electorate and 57% of the Electoral College.

Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965 to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented black Americans from voting but the landmark legislation does more than prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. It assures that citizens can vote no matter their race, color, or language minority status. Mr. Lewis was not a lawmaker at that time although he was present when the VRA was signed.

And now Mr. Lewis wants trade on his reputation as a standard bearer of voting rights to delegitimize 46% of the American electorate and 57% of the Electoral College.

“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”

I analyzed that sentence. Legitimate (and illegitimate) has a precise meaning and John Lewis knows it — he writes laws for a living. Legitimate means “according to law; lawful; valid”; illegitimate means “not authorized by the law.”

Donald Trump and John Lewis

In speaking of whether Mr. Trump can be president, the facts are very simple. The president must be a natural born citizen. The president must be at least thirty-five years old. The president must have been fourteen years a resident within the United States. The Electors must meet in their own States; a majority of them must vote by ballot for one person to be president. Mr. Trump satisfied the law. He is legitimate.

It doesn’t matter what you (or I) think of Mr. Trump’s behavior or his ability or his class. He traded on his own history, followed the rules, and won the election. Mr. Lewis traded on the Civil Rights movement history, broke the rules, and lost his own validity.

Accept the Results

And now President Trump is about as legitimized as it gets.

Pardon Me

Mr. Obama issued 273 pardons and commutations yesterday. He cut Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence to time served. The now-transgender soldier was convicted of Espionage Act violations and other charges for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. The White House announced that Mr. Obama “has now granted more commutations than any president in this nation’s history.” In fact, they proudly noted that is more than “the total number of commutations issued by the past 12 presidents combined.”

Julian Assange said “Manning should never have been convicted in the first place…” Manning “is a hero, whose bravery should be applauded.” Mr. Assange said he would not fight extradition if Manning was freed.

“It was the right thing to do,” my friend Fanny Guay said. “The Right’s claim that Manning’s leaks cost lives was false.”

Yeah, OK.

Looks like the only secrets the Left care about are the Sony memos and salary worksheets.

“No, that’s not it,” Liz Arden replied, double teaming me. “Only people who do it for the right reasons.”

So it would be OK for the Russians to release the RNC emails but not Hillary’s?

“That’s it!”

It’s required that I release my tax return but illegal to publish a teacher’s salary?

“Exactly!” Ms. Guay said. Ms. Arden did the happy dance that I was finally getting it.

But, wait. I taught at Vermont colleges.

“Oh, then you’re protected,” Ms. Guay said.

Now I do get it. I notice that Mr. Assange is still in the Ecuadorian embassy. He’s still a protected good guy. Except for the little matter of the DNC emails.


Merry Christmas, Everyone!

The suburban town of Bethlehem, New York had a “Merry Christmas” sign and a “Happy Hanukkah” sign removed from the busiest intersection in town.


Grinches in the town named for the birthplace of Jesus banned religious holiday signs so they “wouldn’t violate any laws or distract drivers.”

There’s more. This year, the town of Menominee, Michigan, took down the Nativity scene in their city park — a long-standing Christmas tradition — after “Freedom From Religion Foundation” complaints.

I so wish we could find three wise men and a camel. Heck, I’d settle for a smart camel.

christmas bird

Every radio station has defaulted to Christmas music. I’m surprised we haven’t lost that, too. I don’t particularly like Christmas music but my radio has an off switch. I don’t have to listen to it if I don’t want to.

I was raised in a family that was Quaker on one side, Presbyterian on the other. I may not be as organized now as I was when I reached the age of accountability and joined the Presbyterian church but I am still a Christian. And, of course, a WASP.

You don’t have to be either.

Today is the day Christians celebrate the birth of the Christ child and the meaning of Christianity. It was a pretty big day before the stock exchange took it over.

It doesn’t mean Do unto all the other religions, then cut out. Unless you are a Member of Congress. Or, sadly, one of too many “modern” Americans.

Here’s the thing. If you offer food to the monks on Vesak, Buddha’s Birthday, I will honor your commitment to the poor. If you celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, I will honor with you the victory of Lord Ram over the demon-king Ravana. If you fast during Ramadan when the Qur’an was revealed to Mohammad, I will honor your patience and humility. If you celebrate the most solemn and important of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, I will honor your atonement and repentance. If you light the candles of Kwanzaa, I will help you honor your heritage. And if you are a lib’rul atheist, I will not proselytize.

That maybe the most important message.

Not one American soldier in Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Honduras, Indian Ocean, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, or the United States has forced any man, woman, or child to convert to Christianity at the point of a gun again this year.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist, a Hindu, Islamic, a Jew, a Kwanzaan celebrant, or an atheist. It is time, on this Christian holy day, to let Christians be Christians.

My right to impose my own beliefs stops at my property line (or the end of my nose when I’m out in public). The Bethlehem, NY, grinches’ right to idiocy should stop at pretty much the same place. It is time to stop accepting that “politically correct” credo and start honoring the true message of Christmas.

Scythian philosopher Anacharsis wrote in the 6th century BCE, “Wise men argue causes, and fools decide them.

Away With the Manger wasn’t sung quite so loudly this year. Menominee restored the nativity scene to the park because it’s a First Amendment right. After all, if I can get up on my soapbox and decry the crooks in Washington, then Washington (or Menominee, this time) cannot discriminate against another citizen who climbs a soapbox to preach his or her religious faith. In both cases the content is protected speech.

I’m off to pass on my Santa hat to Jake and Liam.


This column originally appeared on Christmas Day, 2008. It required very little updating.